In 1910, US senator “Pilgrim” Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife return, unannounced, to the frontier town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).
A local reporter takes an interest in their arrival, and the senator then begins to tell the story of Shinbone’s wild days, when gunman Liberty Valance terrorised the town. The bulk of the story unfolds in flashback, culminating in a twist that only a spoilsport would reveal.
Filmed in monochrome on backlots and soundstages, John Ford’s adaptation of Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story was as much a lament for the passing of the Hollywood studio system and the traditional Western genre as an elegy for the lost frontier.
The skillfully written screenplay makes the complexity of its themes appear so simple, and the film clearly shows the impact of the arrival of literacy on an innocent, more primitive west.
Dismissed by many critics on its release, this has since been claimed as a twilight masterpiece that sums up Ford’s changing attitudes since My Darling Clementine to the central themes of his career.
Wayne and Stewart create indelible western icons, and a superb Lee Marvin offers memorable support as the Liberty Valance of the title.
The picture will always be remembered for newspaper editor Edmond O’Brien’s line: “This is the west, sir. When the legend conflicts with the facts, print the legend.”
Senator Ransom Stoddard
Major Cassius Starbuckle
Lee Van Cleef